In early 2015, US-based fountain pen company Retro 51 partnered with the community-driven e-commerce website Massdrop to produce a limited edition fountain pen specifically for the Massdrop community. After an initial round of voting where community members cast over 1,300 votes, the final design was chosen and production of the pen commenced. After some unfortunate delays in production, the completed pens were successfully shipped out to the lucky few who placed an order for this beautiful pen.
The pen comes in a simple, friction-fit cardboard tube that has a very nice and sturdy feel to it. A white label is wrapped around the center of the tube with the Massdrop logo as well as a brief history of the pen and the details of how it came to be. On top of the tube, there is a sticker with more information about the model of the pen and so on. The base of the tube has another sticker which indicates the limited edition number of the pen. Looking inside the tube, one will find a foam base that holds the pen upright, foam in the top of the lid to protect the top of the pen in case it shifts around, and a “manual” with the standard international converter folded inside. Overall, the packaging is simple and an elegant solution where more traditional packaging might feel a bit too heavy handed for a pen of this style. Concealed within the pen itself are two mini cartridges containing black ink so you can start writing right away.
Appearance and Design
Like many others, I was skeptical when the voting results came in showing that the community had chosen the “Acid-Etched Herringbone” pattern as the final design. However, my worries were allayed when the first images of the prototype pen surfaced in the Massdrop discussion thread. The acid-etched pattern feels great in the hand and it looks absolutely stunning in person. The cap maintains many of the common design elements from Retro 51 pens like the knurled crown and the unique shape of the clip. Since this was a limited edition run, the edition number has been etched into the pen cap sandwiched between “RETRO51” and “Tornado.” Constructed of a lightweight metal, the pen walks the thin line between feeling very sturdy and feeling really lightweight. I have no concerns about this pen getting banged up as the feel in the hand is very solid. Though the screw-cap threads on the pen body are made of metal, the threads within the cap itself appear to be made of a white plastic. Time will tell if these threads will hold up to long-term use. That being said, the threads hold the cap perfectly well with one and a half turns to securely fasten the pen. Although the cap posts somewhat deeply, it does not feel very secure at all and I would not recommend posting the pen as it feels like the cap could slip off. The grip section of the pen is a black plastic that feels a bit cheap compared to the rest of the pen, but it is comfortable to hold and the step-down between the section and the threads is slight enough to not be too bothersome for most. The nib itself is adorned with a simple scroll pattern, logo, and the words “Schmidt Iridium Point.”
Although some have reported that their nibs (by Schmidt) were a bit scratchy upon arrival, my copy laid down a perfectly smooth line without any fuss. The nib gives a tiny bit of feedback, but it is not scratchy at all and is actually quite pleasant to write with. Flow is good and despite the fact that the pen lays down a thick wet line, the feed has no trouble keeping up with fast writing. To my surprise, the nib even expressed a bit of flex with the right amount of pressure and has a nice bit of bounce to it. However, I would not recommend flexing it on a regular basis. Initially, I was concerned that the pen having a metal body and plastic grip section would cause it to feel back heavy, but the longer I wrote with it the less I seemed to notice any weight discrepancies. Attempting to precariously post the pen definitely tipped the scales into the “back heavy” territory. The cartridges worked perfectly well out of the box (tube) and the piston-fill cartridge gave me no issues at all.
The Retro 1951 Tornado EXT M1 is a beautiful and unique pen that I am proud to have been a part of from watching the community vote online to finally holding it in my hand. While the pen itself doesn’t bring anything particularly unique to the table as far as writing experience, the design and story behind its inception is more unique than most. That being said, it is a solid performer, an excellent pen to carry around and would be sure to pique the interest of any fountain pen enthusiast who might catch a glimpse of it out in the wild. If you can somehow get your hands on one, I say go for it.
Nib material: Steel
Filling mechanism: Cartridge/Converter
Capped Length (Overall): 138 mm
Uncapped Length (Nib tip to end): 127 mm
Posted Length: 161 mm